New York’s Symphony Space offers a week-long celebration of Afro-Cuban culture May 1-8, with a street party, concerts, dancing, films, and a science talk. It’s all part of The Source Project, celebrating the influence of Africa on New World cultures.
According to Symphony Space’s Artistic Director, Andrew Byrne, “For our first installment of The Source Project I felt it was important to focus on a Caribbean nation very much in the news these days—Cuba. A special thank you to our curator for the Project, Alexa Burneikis.”
Here’s the calendar of events.
Sunday, May 1
11 a.m.-2 p.m. A Rumba in the Alley. The week kicks off with a free block party with the Román Díaz Rumba Ensemble, featuring Afro-Cuban percussionist Román Díaz, guest vocalists Sandy Pérez and Melvis Santa, and Cuban visual artist Carlos Mateu. On Broadway between 93rd and 94th Streets.
5-6:30 p.m. Cuban Rhythms Film Program 1
Presented in association with the Havana Film Festival New York, this series features rarely screened films spanning the1960s to today. Many of these shorts capture leading Cuban musical figures in performance and conversation. All screenings take place in the Leonard Nimoy Thalia theater at Symphony Space.
Con sabor a caña, tabaco y ron (1981). Recounts anecdotes from the life of popular Cuban composer and singer Antonio Fernández (Ñico Saquito), while he plays some of his songs.
Descarga (1983). Cuban singers Elena Burke, Moraima Secada, and Omara Portuondo improvise in an informal session, singing popular songs from the 1960s, such as Mil congojas, Si me comprendieras, Cómo fue, and Son al son.
…de mi alma recuerdos (2002). Nueva trova is a musical movement that emerged in Cuba at the end of the 1960s, with singer/songwriters Silvio Rodríguez and Pablo Milanés as its two main founders. Its origins, roots, and inspirations are the theme of this film, which features Silvio Rodríguez, Noel Nicola, Sara González, Augusto Blanca, and Vicente Feliú, among others.
7-8:30 p.m. Cuban Rhythms Film Program 2
Con la misma pasión (1980). Personal accounts, archival footage, and visual documentation recount the life of one of the greatest creators of Cuban music, singer-composer Benny Moré.
Omara (1983). This moving documentary is more than a biography of popular singer Omara Portuondo; it’s a journey through the life and career of one of the greatest performers of this century. Omara talks of the love story of her parents, her participation in the musical quartet Las D’Aida, and of music that serves as inspiration.
¿De donde son los cantantes…? (1976). The Cuban son is one of the most influential and widespread forms of Latin American music around the world. This is a tribute to the outstanding musicians who made it popular.
Monday, May 2
7:30 and 9:30 p.m. Boleros & Mojitos! With Xiomara Laugart. Sip Cuba’s famous mojitos as acclaimed vocalist Xiomara Laugart sings the boleros that made her an icon in her homeland. She will be accompanied by her son, Axel Laugart, on keyboards. In the Bar Thalia at Symphony Space. (Note: both sets are unreserved seating).
Tuesday, May 3
7:30 p.m. Secret Science Club North: Under the Sea. Dive into Cuba’s waters with marine biologist Fernando Bretos, director of the Cuba Marine Research and Conservation Program and curator of ecology at the Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science in Miami. Bridging the political gulf through scientific diplomacy, Bretos works alongside Cuban scientists, studying the island’s remarkable sea creatures and coral reefs. In the Leonard Nimoy Thalia theater.
Thursday, May 5
7:30 p.m. The Jazz Lounge with Yosvany Terry. Composer and instrumentalist Yosvany Terry, a recipient of the prestigious Doris Duke Artist Award in 2015, hails from a musical family in Camagüey, a repository of traditional African culture and religion. This program features his band and special guests in performance and discussion on their musical heritage, education, and influences. In the Leonard Nimoy Thalia theater.
Saturday, May 7
5 – 6:30 p.m. Cuban Rhythms Film Program 3.
Como quiera canto yo (1979). A rich panorama of Cuban music, featuring some of the island’s most outstanding musicians.
Obataleo (1988). Grupo Síntesis recreates Yoruba music— a fundamental part of Cuba’s cultural heritage— merging it with the sonority of northern rock. The result is a new explosion of a rhythmic and contagious character called danzario.
Son de Almendra (1983). To the beat of Abelardo Valdés’ danzón, Almendra, interpreted by the group Irakere, the dancers Sonia Calero and Andrew Williams perform movements aided by a dance barre, with choreography by Alberto Alonso.
Los Zafiros (1966). A musical look at Los Zafiros (The Sapphires), a Cuban vocal group that was part of the filin (feeling) movement inspired by American bands. Their music was a fusion of Cuban genres, such as bolero and son, with R&B, Bossa Nova, and rock, expressed in songs such as Y sabes bien, Mi oración, and Rumba como quieras.
Panorama (1975). A fascinating selection of scenes from the show “Panorama de la música y la danza cubanas” (Overview of Cuban music and dance), by the Danza Nacional de Cuba (National Dance of Cuba). Combining diverse musical expressions and performers, the music is translated into the vocabulary of modern dance in the choreographer Victor de Cuellar.
7–8:30 p.m. Cuban Rhythms Film Program 4.
Hay un grupo que dice… (2014). Titled after a song by Silvio Rodríguez, this documentary explores the history of ICAIC’s Grupo de Experimentacion Sonora (GESI), a symbol of cultural resistance and creativity founded by Silvio Rodríguez, Pablo Milanés, Eduardo Ramos, Sara Gonzales, Noel Nicola, and Leo Brouwer.
Sunday, May 8
7 p.m. The Pedrito Martinez Group with Issac Delgado. The series wraps up with a celebration of internationally acclaimed conguero and rumbero Pedrito Martinez’s upcoming album, Habana Dreams, with a rare appearance by Cuban sensation Issac Delgado, an early member of the super group NG La Banda and one of the most popular salsa vocalists today. Dancing in the aisles is encouraged! Exclusive advance copies of Habana Dreams will be available for sale at the show. In the Peter Jay Sharp Theater at Symphony Space.
Symphony Space is located at 2537 Broadway at 95th Street. Box office hours are Tuesday through Sunday, 1 pm – 6 pm, open two hours prior to performances and events. Tickets can also be purchased at www.symphonyspace.org, or by calling 212/864-5400. The opening block party, “Rumba in the Alley,” on May 1 is free and open to the public.